Maintenance Improvement: is it driven purposefully?

Most maintenance businesses feel the need to improve. Now, in improving there are at least two things that need attention, namely the strategy that will lead to improvement, and the tactics that will form part of the improved way of doing maintenance.

The strategy plays the role of determining the borders of the maintenance ‘game’ - the objective of the game, how the game board and its pieces look and behave, and its rules.  The strategy makes the success of the game possible. In contrast with this, tactics determine the approach of individual players to play the game, such that they win.  

In team sport, the strategy of the team would be things like attracting the right players, and the approach to the coaching process. The tactics typically consist of a game plan for each individual game to use the team’s strengths to the utmost, as well as to capitalise on the weaknesses of the opposing team.

Likewise, a maintenance strategy is the master plan that will, if thought through well, and compiled purposefully, drive success. Such strategy will consist of a strategy document (also sometimes called the maintenance policy), and managerial procedures that explains how the various aspects of the strategy should be achieved. The strategy ensures that the maintenance business addresses the right issues (those that will lead to success). It thus makes sure that the maintenance business is well structured in terms of infrastructure, equipment, tools, personnel, training, systems, and are generally well organised.

Tactics, on the other hand, consists of the elements of the ‘game plan’ that will ensure maintenance success for individual pieces of equipment, within the context set by the strategy. Such ‘game plan’ consists of a maintenance plan for each individual piece of equipment, and ways of successfully addressing (and managing) individual tasks.

It should be clear when studying the above, that tactics play a secondary role. That does not say that they are not important, but tactics need to be in line with the strategic framework to bring success.

When doing maintenance audits for clients, we without fail find that the necessary strategic framework is not in place. This brings about that very few of the business’ tactics (the few good tactics that do exist in such a strategy-poor environment) really add value. And, what is worse, when such organisations embark on maintenance improvement, they almost without fail want to improve their tactics (e.g. through installing a better Computerised Maintenance Management System or starting an RCM process). This has the effect that much effort (and money) is expended without the required result, simply because the necessary strategic framework has not been put in place.

What is the lesson? One should always drive improvement processes from the top down. In maintenance that means that the maintenance management team must determine what the important elements are that will drive success and in what way those elements should be deployed. When the required strategies have been determined and put in place, they must be communicated down through the organisation’s hierarchy, and thus used to drive the tactical planning process.

The fact that a very small percentage of maintenance organisations are world class should not be a surprise. The reason for this is simply that maintenance management often drives the tactical process, instead of the strategic process. The best maintenance tactics, if not supported by well thought through maintenance strategies, will not bring success.